There’s a lot of rubbish online about Sheela Na Gigs. Carvings of female figures displaying an exaggerated vulva, there’s certainly a sexual reference in there somewhere, but the truth is that we still don’t really know what they were used for, or what they’re meant to represent.
Although found across the European contient, the largest number seem to be centered in Ireland, but mostly in areas that were controlled by Anglo-Norman colonists (which is when most date to). This, and the fact that there’s no clear lexicological trail for an Irish (Gaelic) meaning, would seem to suggest it was an introduced motif rather than a native Irish one.
But the jury’s still out on that.
Whenever there’s any ambiguity, of course, you’ll find online ‘authorities’ (most who’ve never even seen a Sheela na Gig) claiming to know what they represent. Most of these tend to be pushing their own pet theories or agendas (thanks Facebook!) which is why you should never believe anything you read on the platfrom which hasn’t been reviewed elsewhere.
That said, this is an interesting take (in the Guardian) by some Irish feminists. I suspect (but I certainly dont know) the figures were used as a kind of ‘suppressor’ by the Anglo-Norman Church. It’s kind of amusing to see the shoe on the other foot. Sheela!